A Philosophy Scholarship Program

Furman University has developed an exciting scholarship program for students interested in studying philosophy. J. Aaron Simmons, associate professor of philosophy there, kindly took some time to write up a description of it, posted below. Do any other schools have something like this?

Preemptively Changing the Narrative through a Philosophy Scholarship Program       

In the context of frequent claims within popular culture questioning the value of a liberal arts education and tendencies within public policy to reallocate resources away from the humanities, Furman University’s Philosophy Department is trying to change things. Working with the offices of Admissions and Financial Aid, in the spring of 2013 the Furman Philosophy Department introduced a scholarship program for incoming freshmen. As far as we know, this is the only scholarship program of its kind in the country (we would love to hear from other institutions if there are places doing similar things). In its first year (fall of 2014), we awarded a total of $72,000 in scholarships to four freshmen (which will continue for each of the students’ four years at Furman). This year, we are hoping to increase both the amount and the number of students receiving funding. The scholarship recipients are not required to major in philosophy (we prize the value of the exploratory nature of a liberal arts education and so want to avoid expecting them to choose their major before taking classes), but they are expected to have a philosophy faculty member as an advisor, take Introduction to Philosophy in their first year, and take several other philosophy courses before graduating. Ideally, they will decide to declare philosophy as a major, but we give them the flexibility not to, while still providing them with a good foundation in philosophical study nonetheless.

This program is not only a boon for the students, but also for the department and the discipline more broadly. The Philosophy faculty have become involved in student recruitment and now work closely with the Admissions Office to facilitate access and contact with prospective students. Moreover, the scholarship recipients arrive on campus excited about philosophy. This is a rare quality among freshmen and so we try to capitalize on their energy by hosting a welcome dinner for them in order to build community among the majors more broadly.  By offering the funding to incoming students (as compared to some other institutions that offer scholarships for philosophy students once they are already on campus), Furman is building bridges between academic philosophy and secondary education. For example, we have begun to cultivate relationships with high school counselors and even some high school teachers in the effort to encourage more philosophical study prior to entering college.

In an era when the number of majors often stands as the single most important factor in the administrative assessment of academic departments and programs, facilitating such a scholarship program not only allows us to benefit these very talented young women and men, but also to stabilize the number of majors that we can expect from year to year (again, even though we don’t require the scholarship recipients to major in philosophy, we certainly encourage them to do so). At present, Furman has approximately 2,600 students and the philosophy department (which has 7 full faculty lines) has approximately 75 majors. Though there are a variety of reasons for the health of our department, this scholarship program is certainly one factor. The scholarship program not only allows us to attract philosophically interested students to Furman, but it also encourages philosophical interest downward to those who might not have considered it (friends, family, teachers, etc., of those students who are applying). Thus, we are working to change the narrative about the value of philosophy by preemptively making it desirable in terms that high school students, counselors, and parents are able immediately to understand and appreciate.

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